UN in ‘race against time’ to avert famine in Taliban-run Afghanistan

Donors cut funding after extremists took power, stoking fears of widespread famine

The UN on Tuesday warned of a “race against time” to raise cash and get food, water and shelter to millions of Afghans as winter approaches.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said a $606 million flash appeal launched weeks after the Taliban took over the country had only achieved 35 per cent of its target. He urged donors to give more cash, fast.

The UN says it will stay in Afghanistan to help 14 million people facing hunger and about 3.2 million children under 5 who will suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year, including a million children who could starve to death.

Members of a UN mission to the north-western city of Herat had “sounded the alarm on the dire state of malnutrition and food insecurity sweeping across Afghanistan”, Mr Dujarric said in New York.

“With the winter fast approaching … it is now a race against time to assist Afghan families.”

The UN highlighted the case of Afghan mother Jahan Bibi, who took her 18-month-old daughter to Herat regional hospital for treatment for malnutrition because she could no longer breastfeed her weakened infant.

“We have no food at home,” Ms Bibi told UN staff in Herat.

“We are selling everything to buy food, yet I barely eat anything. I am weak and I don’t have any milk for my child.”

UN warnings of a looming famine came as Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers met British diplomats in Kabul in a bid to gain international recognition and restart foreign cash flows the nation.

The Taliban, notorious for their oppressive rule from 1996 to 2001, have faced a backlash after effectively excluding women and girls from classrooms and workplaces since they regained power amid a chaotic US and Nato withdrawal in August.

Western governments have said the group must form an “inclusive” government and respect the rights of women and minorities if they are to be rewarded with development money and a seat in the UN General Assembly.

Neighbouring Pakistan meanwhile urged the international community to engage with the new rulers and help stabilise a country of 39 million people, many of whom struggle to make ends meet after decades of conflict and drought.

The Taliban have made some gestures towards international respectability, while insisting on their right to run the country based on their harsh policies including punishments such as executions and the amputation of hands.

On Tuesday, girls returned to some secondary schools in northern Kunduz province, Taliban officials and teachers said, despite them remaining barred from classrooms elsewhere in the country.

Investigators from the human-rights group Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Taliban forces of unlawfully killing 13 members of the country's Hazara community at the end of August in Daykundi province.

According to Amnesty, Taliban fighters opened fire on a crowd, killing 11 former members of the Afghan National Defence Security Forces, who had surrendered, and two civilians, including a 17-year-old girl.

“These cold-blooded executions are further proof that the Taliban are committing the same horrific abuses they were notorious for during their previous rule of Afghanistan,” said the group’s head Agnes Callamard.

Updated: October 5th 2021, 7:01 PM
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